UPPER DARBY >> Midway through the third quarter of its Central League game against Radnor, Upper Darby faced a fourth-and-goal from the one, up four points. Royals quarterback Josh Gouch had already been denied twice on goal-line attempts. He now prepared for a third and the possibility of a deflating result.
“I was thinking, ‘we have one yard,’” Gouch said. “If we don’t get in, we shouldn’t be on the field.”
Gouch did get in. He broke out of a pile under center and dove left into the end zone — ”That was…improvised,” he admitted — to cap a 67-yard, energy-sapping drive.
There was no stopping Gouch on the play. There was no stopping him on the night. Gouch finished with 128 yards rushing and 101 through the air as Upper Darby upended the Raiders, 39-14.
It was a physical, not-for-the-faint-of-heart contest, marked by big hits and the departure of Radnor starting quarterback Sean Mullarkey to injury.
The teams battled through a scoreless first quarter before trading punches in the second.
The Royals opened the scoring, fittingly, on a defensive play. Derick Korboi scooped a fumble at the Raiders 10 and sprinted in for six.
“Attack and be aggressive,” said linebacker Richard Tougeekay of Upper Darby’s mindset. “Aggressive, aggressive.”
The offense picked up that mantra on its next possession, going 70 yards on 10 plays to double the advantage. Gouch capped the drive with a nine-yard keeper.
But Radnor responded. Taylor Margolis pushed his first-half rushing total to 45 yards with bullish runs up the middle. Mullarkey, meanwhile, found his rhythm as a passer, connecting with Kyle Addis for 15 and Chase Ressler for 22 to put the Raiders in the red zone for the first time. Once there, Mullarkey showed his savvy. He faked a toss left and darted around the right side for a clean 16-yard score. Radnor had life.
Fourteen seconds later, it had the lead. Gouch threw low on a backward swing pass, Marson Weh couldn’t corral it and the Raiders’ Kieran Sheridan made quick work of the fumble. The visitors, battered all evening, suddenly were up 14-12.
On the other side, Gouch stewed.
“My offense, we knew we messed up,” said Gouch. “We knew nothing like that could happen again.”
It didn’t. Gouch rushed for 15 yards on his first snap after the fumble. On third-and-two from the Radnor 12 with less than 30 seconds to play in the half, he plowed up the middle for 10. Gouch finished the drive on the next play.
“We came right down and scored,” he said, “and showed what we can do.”
The fumble that led to the Raiders’ short-lived lead was one of two game-changing plays. The other came on a screen pass. Mullarkey, just after Gouch put Upper Darby up 25-14, scrambled left and floated a ball for Margolis. Both Margolis and Mullarkey were drilled immediately, with the Royals earning a personal foul on the play. The running back returned. The quarterback did not. And it cost Radnor.
Jihaad McDonald picked off Sam DiLella on the backup’s first pass. It wasn’t a bad throw by any means — McDonald jumped backwards to snare it away from the intended receiver — but it quieted the Raiders sideline.
Gouch took advantage of the turnover, running for 15 yards following the takeaway. Then, with the defense looking for him to run, he pump-faked and hit Jalen Camille down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown.
“I saw my man could beat theirs and let it go,” Gouch said.
Kevin Kerwood, Gouch’s backup, did his best impression of the starter in the fourth quarter, taking a draw into the end zone from seven out to complete the scoring.
Upper Darby (2-2, 1-2 Central) was left satisfied after two grueling defeats to open its league campaign.
“We feel really good,” said Tougeekay. “We feel like we’re back in the mix. We can do something.”
On the opposite sideline, Radnor coach Tom Ryan knew how hard his team fought. The Raiders (2-2, 0-2) had matched the Royals’ physicality for two and a half quarters. When Mullarkey went out, so did their chances.
“There was no quit in them,” Ryan said. “It was a one-score game at the half, and we didn’t have things bounce our way.”